eaturing some of the nation’s best angling waters, the Outer Banks is a sport fisherman’s paradise. Fishing along the coast is offered in a variety of forms –surf and pier fishing, freshwater, fly and sound fishing, inshore and offshore charter fishing — with the season lasting throughout the year.
Fly fishing has, in recent years, become a popular way to take advantage of the area’s rich and bountiful waters. Anglers who have experienced fly fishing on the Outer Banks have found many rewards. Numerous world records have been claimed from area waters.
Species caught are determined by the time of year. The spring and the fall are the best seasons for most fish, especially red drum, speckled trout and big blue fish. Flounder can be taken from April into late September. Summer brings the return of Spanish mackerel and pompano and smaller blue fish. And, during the winter, stripers are the predominant fish.
For fly fishing in the flats, the most productive time of the day is during the low light of morning and evening, preferably on an incoming tide. The best areas in the flats are points such as grass points, deep channels with current flow, submerged grass beds, and marsh canals. Anglers can hunt for fish either by boat or by wading.
Freshwater and Brackish Water Fishing
Although the Outer Banks is best known for its saltwater fishing, the destination offers great freshwater fishing in the Currituck Sound, Kitty Hawk Bay and Colington Bay, which supports a large population of largemouth bass. The bass season begins in April and lasts through November, with the peak season occurring between mid-April to early June and in September and October.
During the summer, white and yellow perch can be caught; and even some catfish are found in the brackish waters. Recommended baits in the spring months are crank and spinner baits; during the summer, worms are a good selection. Freshwater fishing licenses are required and can be obtained at area bait and tackle shops as well as seafood shops.
Offshore and Inshore Charter Fishing
The Outer Banks is known as “The Billfish Capital of the World,” and for good reason. Hundreds of blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish are caught and released in Outer Banks waters every year. The season for billfish is long, with the peak for blue marlin arriving in June and white marlin and sailfish most plentiful in August and September. All are caught consistently from late spring to early fall.
The Gulf Stream runs approximately 30 miles off the Outer Banks coast, providing the offshore angler with a wide variety of fish all year. Probably the most sought-after species is the yellowfin tuna, which is caught year round. Another type of tuna that has, in recent years, made quite a splash in the area, is the giant bluefin tuna. Ranging from 200 to more than 1,000 pounds, they are known to be a challenge for even the professionals. The season for bluefin tuna is generally early January through late March, and this species is normally caught and released. Visitors should let the charter boat captain know in advance, if they are interested in this species. Other species taken while trolling offshore include wahoo, dolphin, king mackerel and mako.
Offshore charter boats usually carry a maximum of six people for a full day of fishing. The charters are run by professional captains and mates. All bait, tackle and equipment are provided. Anglers need to bring their own food and drinks as well as a cooler for taking home their catch. Inshore charters are available for half-day trips and don’t venture out as far as the offshore charters.
Inshore, anglers can catch king mackerel, big blues, cobia and amberjack during the spring and fall and tailor blues and Spanish mackerel from late April through September. Most inshore boats carry four to six people. Charters can be booked at local marinas. If visitors are unable to arrange a group, marinas will put together “make-up” charters.
Sound and Headboat Fishing
Another great way to fish the Outer Banks is by small boat in the Pamlico, Croatan, Albemarle and Roanoke Sounds. Either from one’s own boat or from one rented in the area, anglers can expect to catch a wide variety of fish, including trout, spot, croaker, flounder, sheepshead and, at night, even red drum. Also popular is cobia, a hard fighting fish, which hits its peak in late May or early June. In recent years, there have been good catches of striped bass during the fall, winter and spring.
Visitors can hire a guide and boat or set out on their own from one of the public boat ramps located at numerous places, including the Manteo waterfront, Oregon Inlet, Pirate’s Cove, Kill Devil Hills on Durham Street and on Hatteras Island.
Another excellent choice for both novice and experienced fishermen is headboat fishing. The headboats, which carry 40 people to 50 people, run half-day trips and stay in the sound and inlet waters. Depending on the season, the catch is usually spot, sea trout, flounder, croaker and sea bass. The boats provide experienced and helpful crews; all bait, equipment and tackle; restroom facilities; and a drink/snack bar. Headboat fishing is great entertainment for the entire family.
Surf and Pier Fishing
In the summer, flounder, croaker and small bluefish are the mainstay, though spot, croaker and grey trout can also be caught. Surf fishing really takes off by Outer Banks standards in August, when pompano and Spanish mackerel begin to make a showing and a few tarpon are hooked. September is the best month for all three.
Locals say, “after Labor Day, the fishing gets serious.” Returning to the waters are the red drum and the “big blues.” Blues weighing more than 15 pounds are abundant and are known to “blitz” the beaches throughout the fall months. One of the most sought after species is red drum. Drums range in size and are known by different names according to their size. The puppy drum is the youngest of the drum family. Next in age and size class is the red drum in the 35-pound to 70-pound range. The largest of the species are known as “channel bass.” The world record is 94 pounds and was caught off the waters of Avon, N.C., on Hatteras Island, in 1984. Abundant during this time are flounder, spot, croaker, and, in recent years, speckled trout.
A saltwater license is required to fish at the coast. Children under 16 are exempt. The license is available from Division of Marine Fisheries offices, Wildlife Resources Commission license agents (which include bait & tackle shops), online at www.ncwildlife.org, or by calling toll free (888) 248-6834. An individual does not need a license for charter boat and pier fishing, as they are covered by a blanket license. For further details or a list of shops that sell the license, please visit www.ncwildlife.org, www.ncdmf.net, or www.outerbanks.org
Anglers should be informed of current fisheries’ regulations, including size and bag limits of species caught. For details about the citation program, and/or current fisheries’ regulations, visit area bait and tackle shops or piers or call the NC Division of Marine Fisheries at (252) 726-7021 or (800) 682-2632 (800# is only good in North Carolina) or visit www.ncfisheries.net. For information on what’s being caught and the current conditions, call The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau Fishing Line at 877-629-4386.
About The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a chain of barrier islands midway on the Atlantic Seaboard. The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau is a public authority and the lead marketing and promotional agency for Dare County’s Outer Banks. The Bureau’s web site is www.outerbanks.org
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